Foes and Friends
by Tom Doyle
author of American Craftsmen
I owe my first novel to my childhood enemy.
I’ve always been fascinated by war. War stories may be exciting or appalling, but always interesting. It’s not surprising then that my debut novel from Tor, American Craftsmen, is a modern-day fantasy of military intrigue.
As a kid, from the time I was first selecting which books to read, I was devouring war histories. My mom indulged me with a membership in the Military Book Club. Like many, I was primarily obsessed with the Second World War, with its sweeping strategies and tactics and its grand-scale battles across the globe.
What I didn’t realize was that many of the truths of war were hidden in the armchair-general style of nonfiction that I was reading. Then, I read All Quiet on the Western Front, and my childhood enthusiasm for military history became more restrained and thoughtful. For the first time, I acquired an intellectual sense of the personal cost of war for both friend and foe.
As an adult, I read more of the oral history-based accounts of war that dealt with the experiences of individual soldiers. In lieu of abstract strategies and tactics, I also developed more of an interest in the equipment and organization that made a difference in combat, if only to improve my play at computer strategy games based on individual campaigns and battles. When I decided to write American Craftsmen, I read special ops and espionage histories and particularly noted the successes, failures, and limitations.
Still, all these educational experiences were at a considerable remove from the realities of special operations combat, even if I threw magic into the mix. For my novel, especially its opening, I knew I would need primary source material for its real-world military aspects. My main source for much of the immediate detail in American Craftsmen was my long-time friend Dave. Dave served during the First Gulf War and had the personal experiences that I needed to hear.
Oddly enough, during my grade school years Dave was my nightmare, an enemy on a scale I haven’t known since. But in high school, we became friends almost for perversity of it. We've maintained this unlikely friendship through his time in the U.S. Naval Academy and his service, and through his civilian life since. Though this wasn't my intention in writing it, people may see a distant echo of our story in the rivalry of two of the characters in my novel.
For writing a fantasy thriller, living in Washington DC has definite advantages. I’ve toured the Pentagon, and I’ve made some more friends who are ex-military or ex-intelligence. Also, many of the great Civil War battlefields are a just a short trip from the capital, and my tours of those provided descriptive detail for one section of my book. From living and working in DC, New York, and Tokyo, I’ve also been uncannily close at hand for some of the great terrorist incidents of the last generation.
A final war-related theme of American Craftsmen is its multigenerational military families. Again, this concept required some research and thought on my part; in my family, military service has been the exception rather than the rule. As the Scipios were to Roman history, multigenerational military families are a significant part of U.S. history, as one can see in the Lees of the Revolution and the Civil War, and in the stories and real life of Lucian Truscott IV. Elite military families also dovetailed nicely with my concept of secret magical family lineages in the U.S.
The experience of writing my novel, the first of a three-book series, has taught me how much I still would like to learn about military life and combat. I look forward to more research, reading, and touring, and to hearing more of the comments and stories of soldiers, intelligence officers, veterans, and one particular childhood enemy who’s now my friend. I hope you’ll feel free to contact me or connect with me on the social media platform of your choice.
Tom Doyle’s first novel in a three-book contemporary fantasy series from Tor, American Craftsmen, was published in May 2014. His short fiction collection from Paper Golem Press, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes winners of the Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award. If you’d like to read more about American Craftsmen or his other stories, please go to his website at www.tomdoylewriter.com.
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